They may just be in high school, but members of the Free State High and Lawrence High gymnastics squads are on the verge of retirement.
"Every year we get older, and every year our bodies are telling us 'No, you can't do that, you can't do that,'" Lawrence's Kara Kellison said. "We kind of have a joke that in gymnasts' years we should be retired, we should be like 50-something."
Because the Lions are expected to defend their state championship - again - the girls continue to put off retirement.
"Everyone keeps asking me, 'Is it going to be a three-peat?'" Kellison, who has been of member of the state champion squads the last two years, said. "I don't know. I don't want to say yes or no, but I don't want tell them no and then lose our encouragement. And then, say yes but then be cocky all season because it could be either way."
However, the postponement of retiring has had its effects on Kellison and state all-around champion Mallory West.
"I had a back injury awhile ago, but it's not really affecting me as it did last year," Kellison said. "Hopefully, it will stay in remission and not do anything too bad this year - hopefully."
But Kellison was willing to give a forecast for her individual performances: She expects to finish in the top three on the floor event and in the top three on the beam at the league meet and hopefully carry momentum into regionals and state.
West also has high expectations as the two-time all-around state champion, but offseason reconstructive ankle surgery will make it even more challenging for the junior gymnast.
"The ankle is feeling pretty good," West, who doesn't plan to compete in the vault or floor to start the season, said. "It's just really getting to work up the strength and get used to landing hard. But if feels stronger. I can actually feel my muscles working."
While injuries continue to plague LHS, a lack of interest is hindering the Firebirds from fielding a team. In postseason meets, Free State will have only individual scoring; it doesn't have enough girls to field the mandatory three gymnasts to qualify as a team.
Free State will be able to compete for team titles with the participation of Perry-Lecompton's Jennifer Pogge, but she must represent her own school after the regular season.
"Although gymnastics does have a team score and team result, really, it's still an individual sport as far as where you place," said Kathy Johnson, who coaches both the Firebirds and Lions squads. "So they still have an opportunity to do well as individuals, just like Jennifer did for Perry-Lecompton. That'll be more important, for them to do as well as they can as individuals."